Review of evidence
17. Written evidence from the commercial channels
recognised that devolution has had a significant effect on news
and current affairs broadcasting in Scotland, with a shift of
focus to Edinburgh. The Broadcasting Council for Scotland made
the same point. Scottish
Television spoke of the novelty value of access to and concentration
of politicians in Edinburgh. This caused the company temporarily
to withdraw its correspondent from Westminster, which for a time
was only covered on an ad hoc basis.
This was clearly a misjudgement brought on by the nature of the
times. Scottish Televison quickly recognised that important stories
were still emerging from London. It concluded that whilst attention
still tended to be focused on the Scottish Parliament, Westminster
had to be covered regularly. It believed that in general devolution
had seen political matters being dealt with more often and in
greater detail. Border
Television said that there had been an increased awareness of
18. The Scottish Television section of the memorandum
from the Scottish Media Group also said, "The content of
our existing programmes had altered significantly in the post-devolution
era." It argued
that devolution to Edinburgh of the bulk of domestic policy responsibilities,
"issues that matter most to our viewers", which now
received more scrutiny, needed to be reflected in news programming.
This had caused a profound impact on content.
The memorandum further stated that in Scotland devolution had
led to improved accountability, which previously had been more
difficult to achieve:
"Holding to account a small number of Scottish
Office Ministers based for at least part of their working week
in London was not always easy. It was often difficult to secure
access to relevant ministerial interviewees. It is now much easier
for broadcasters to get access to the relevant responsible Minister
and to hold that Minister to account in interviews or live appearances
in our programmes."
19. Grampian Television concluded that, whilst Westminster
remained an important source of news and current affairs, devolution
has led to different sources for many of the items covered.
Since devolution the Scottish Media Group had been liaising with
ITN, which is the national news provider for the commercial channels,
with a view to improving both explanation and coverage of devolution
matters. The television
companies have recently negotiated a new contract with ITN which
contains a provision which aims to "try to get a much closer
relationship between ITN and the regions."
The Scottish Media Group will henceforth have easy access to pool
footage and pool coverage from ITN,
a development that will enhance the Company's ability to reflect
issues of UK importance. These are positive steps which we
20. The arrival of devolution and the bruising debate
concerning the 'Scottish Six' caused the BBC to introduce improved
links between Scotland and London with regard to the production
of news and current affairs programmes. Sir Robert Smith, Chair
of the Broadcasting Council for Scotland said:
"The Broadcasting Council has been very
impressed with the co-operation between Scotland and London in
arranging the running order, the correct handling of areas like
transport, health, education, land reform, which are properly
areas for which the Scottish Parliament has legislative responsibility.
That, frankly, did not happen adequately before devolution. There
was not enough contact between Scotland and London."
21. During oral evidence witnesses from the BBC spoke
of the increase in Scottish-based stories on national news
and the successful viewing figures for Reporting Scotland
and the Newsnight opt out.
But the Westminster perspective had not been lost.
The BBC argued that the 'Scottish Six' debate was a pre-devolution
issue that had been overcome by restructuring the news hour at
6 and by increased liaison and co-operation between London and
Scotland. BBC Scotland
was managerially responsible for all network news gathering in
Scotland. Blair Jenkins, Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC
"I think the [present] case for the 'Scottish
Six' would have to be not that what we have at the moment is not
working, but that we can identify ways in which what we do would
be better and would be improved if we moved on to that particular
22. Whilst the Broadcasting Council for Scotland
still supports the principle of a 'Scottish Six',
Sir Robert Smith said:
"I wish we had a different vocabulary other
than 'Scottish Six' because it just raises all sorts of historical
things whereas, in fact, the whole issue is about editorial control
in Scotland and how it works with London. We have moved a long,
long way from where we were two and a half years ago and I think
we need to look at where we are now. Is it sufficient? If it is
not sufficient, do we need better editorial control in Scotland?
If that is the right thing, then we will be taking that to the
Board of Governors and arguing the case there."
23. BBC Scotland spoke of the need to ensure that
Scottish audiences were able to receive a mix of services, which
reflected the realities of political decision making and accountability
It said that there now exists greater coherence in coverage of
parliamentary activity in Edinburgh, London and Brussels.
24. The BBC admitted that regional balance was a
perennial issue for broadcasters in general.
Attempts were being made to reflect news from around Scotland
and to move away from the "central belt" to illustrate
stories. The Head
of News and Current Affairs at BBC Scotland told us "We think
we do that fairly well but it is undoubtedly a constant challenge
to us not to be over-focused on the two main cities."
25. In terms of coverage of European matters, the
Broadcasting Council for Scotland had voiced some concern, the
result of which was the appointment of a correspondent based in
Europe principally to serve BBC Scotland.
We welcome this appointment and look forward to increased coverage
of European issues.
26. As well as striving to provide an appropriate
level of balance between the three political centres and the local
issues throughout Scotland, BBC Scotland has put some thought
into how it might "connect the debates in Scotland with the
wider debates going on elsewhere."
We believe this to be a responsible and essential prerequisite
to high journalistic standards, which has particular relevance
to a small country with a history of looking outwards.
27. Mr Nigel Smith, former member of the Broadcasting
Council for Scotland, former Chair of Broadcasting for Scotland
Campaign and former Chair of Scotland Forward, took issue with
the claim that there had been "a noticeably greater inclusion
of Scottish material in the network news at 6pm."
He argued that although the Scottish-based content might have
grown from one to three per cent, such an increase was of little
consequence. Mr Smith
suggested that news and current affairs broadcasting in Scotland
had not been right for 20 years and no longer gave a balanced
view. Mr Smith laid
the blame at the feet of the BBC Governors as well as politicians.
Mr David Hutchison, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Glasgow
Caledonian University, argued that Scotland had suffered historically
in news and current affairs terms from the need to produce distinctive
regional material. He believed this approach contained the danger
Mr Hutchison suggested that the ideal model for mature broadcasting
was where there existed responsibility for presenting the full
range of news and current affairs output to the audience. He cited
the example of Radio Scotland which combined international, UK
and Scottish news and comment, drawing on resources in Scotland,
the UK and throughout the world.
28. Both Mr Smith and Professor Schlesinger noted
the complex circumstances surrounding the growing levels of political
disengagement discernable in the electorate. Both allocated some
blame for this development to the quality of public service broadcasting.
Mr Hutchinson spoke of the "danger of always being seen to
be in opposition."
He cited an example of "zealous destructiveness" which
he believed should be avoided.
Mr Hutchison reminded us that:
"We live in an age where the agencies of
social cohesion...are not as powerful as they once were. Broadcasting
is an agency of social cohesion, and if you undermine the major
public service channels, then we run quite serious risks, which
we ought to think long and hard about."
29. Another word of caution was sounded by Professor
Schlesinger and Mr Hutchison concerning the absence of research
into questions of balance and audience reaction to news and current
30. Professor Schlesinger told us that since devolution
Scotland had become a political entity in a way that it had not
been before, the
implication being that this fact should be recognised by broadcasters.
Mr Hutchison recalled an interesting phrase from a former American
Ambassador when he said "broadcasting has got to find a way
of adapting to asymmetrical federalism rather better than it has
31. Mr Hutchison believed that although the structure
of some current affairs broadcasting might be unsound, it was
a problem that might be rectified.
For example he mooted the idea that quality discussions such as
can sometimes be found on either Newsnight or the Scottish
opt-out might feature earlier in the schedules. Commending Channel
4 News, Mr Hutchison suggested the inclusion of in-depth analysis
within the context of the 6-7 news hour on both the BBC and ITV.
The Managing Director of Scottish Television said:
"One of the things we are looking to do
as part of our ongoing discussions with ITV and the ITC about
the place of original programming in the future is to bring programmes
like Platform and Crossfire slightly earlier in
BBC Scotland explained that it was looking for ways
to overcome "the tyranny of the two-minute soundbite."
Providing some scope for serious discussion during the early
evening news hour would be a step forward.
32. The MSPs who appeared before us gave full rein
to their thoughts on news and current affairs broadcasting. Mr
Mike Russell MSP (SNP, South of Scotland) drew attention to the
monolithic centralised structure of the BBC, an organisation which,
he believed, was unresponsive and frightened of change.
Mr Russell thought that the Scottish Media Group had a long way
to go in its approach to achieve the provision of a Scottish perspective.
He suggested that 90 per cent of broadcast news and current affairs
output in Scotland was not produced there. Mr Russell argued that
greater prominence was given to Whitehall Ministers, even those
with little or no responsibility in Scotland.
Lastly, we were reminded by Mr Russell that the purpose of broadcasting
legislation was to protect social, political and cultural imperatives.
"That argument seems to have disappeared
in favour entirely of economic imperatives and the seeming inevitability
of some global market. It is not inevitable."
In similar vein to the hypothesis in the book by
Professor Schlesinger and his colleagues, Mr Russell believed
that it was now not possible in the UK for nation to speak unto
nation. In terms of the BBC, Mr Russell said:
"They simply have a job they cannot do,
and I believe some of them do try quite hard to bring in Scottish
stories of various dimensions, but it cannot work. It is simply
a model of broadcasting which is totally past."
33. Mr Frank McAveety MSP (Labour, Glasgow Shettleston)
said that broadcast journalism was more balanced than print journalism.
He was however disappointed with the quality of some of the material
on the Newsnight opt-out, which is available to viewers
in Scotland. Mr McAveety
alluded to some of the concerns about the Glasgow/Edinburgh city
centric viewpoint achieving precedence over news items from other
parts of Scotland, unless a crisis was involved.
In agreement with our own low opinion on the matter, he spoke
eloquently against the growing trend of journalists interviewing
journalists about topical issues.
34. The evidence from Mr Robert Brown MSP (Liberal
Democrat, Glasgow) indicated the variety of perspectives that
required attention both in Scotland and the UK.
He made an important point, also raised by Mr Smith, with regard
to the way people assimilate information concerning local issues.
This is achieved by a range of sources including television, radio
and print. We believe that this illustrates the point that the
public is both discerning and aware of placing undue reliance
on one medium for the provision of news. As technology advances,
there may be a danger of becoming too locked into the notion that
broadcasters should be responsible for coverage of even the most
local of news. It would certainly make news gathering, which as
Mr Smith said, was expensive, prohibitive.
35. Mr Brown worried about the dominance over broadcasting
and print journalism that the Scottish Media Group had in Scotland.
He also endorsed the complaint from Mr McAveety concerning
the insufficient clarity in news and current affairs programmes,
whereby the distinctiveness of Scotland's position or policy on
a given matter as a result of devolution was either confused or
not readily signified.
36. The Radio Authority explained that the three
all-UK radio services did not split programming. This was largely
for technical reasons. Coverage by these stations of Scottish
affairs was therefore governed by editorial judgement of the likely
interest to the UK-wide audience. Local and regional radio stations
provided substantial coverage to Scottish matters. The Radio Authority
said, "A comment made to us purports that news and current
affairs coverage post devolution has not heightened an overall
interest in Scottish issues with listeners."
The Authority also noted that most of the local and regional Scottish
stations are music-based with only modest-sized newsrooms.
37. The 6 to 7pm news hour on both BBC and ITV is
popular. Audiences tend to dip in and out. But as Mr Hutchison
told us, there was difficulty in arousing audience interest in
politics. This truism
is, in terms of democratic development and understanding, depressing.
But at the moment it remains a fact of life. Public service broadcasting
demands that issues of importance are put before the viewer and
listener in an appropriate form. Managing this part of the broadcasting
menu is problematic, particularly for the commercial channels
who will not stand idly by in the face of declining audiences.
There is a tendency now to park current affairs programmes well
out of the way. Witness the fate of Panorama over the past
38. Whilst insisting on and being part of a vigorous
monitoring process, we must be careful not to become too lathered
about how news and current affairs programmes are presented in
the various quarters of the United Kingdom, so long as high standards
are adhered to. Clearly there has to be a local perspective. And
in Scotland care needs to be taken to reflect views on local issues
from all parts of Scotland and to strengthen international coverage.
That said, we remain still a United Kingdom and a national perspective
is equally important. Ensuring an acceptable balance between
the various conflicting pressures, particularly on an often overcrowded
peak time news, is a feat almost impossible to achieve. There
will always be room for improvement. We acknowledge the difficulty
of the role performed, especially by the BBC. We consider that
the impossible is, in tricky circumstances, accomplished to a
relatively high degree.
39. The task we set ourselves was to review the post-devolution
news and current affairs arrangements for broadcasting in Scotland.
It quickly became clear how much improved was the provision by
the BBC with regard to the Scottish content. Prior to devolution
the Scottish dimension in national news had been barely noticeable.
We were reassured by the BBC about the level of contact between
Glasgow and London which was now apparent. But, whilst noting
the lack of interest in the south of England in the Scottish Parliament,
we would urge the BBC to include additional items in its news
bulletins which reflect the progress of devolution. It is simply
not balanced, reasonable or fair merely to report the sensational
aspects of Scottish politics or policy areas where there might
be some contradiction with developments in other parts of the
UK. The evidence from the BBC clearly showed that there was no
technical reason why a news programme mixing international, UK-wide
and Scottish news made and edited in Scotland could not be produced,
although some practical difficulties were identified.
40. At the end of the first Scottish Parliament BBC
Scotland and the Broadcasting Council for Scotland propose a review
of the current arrangements for news and current affairs broadcasting
in Scotland. As we have said, whilst there is an expressed satisfaction
with the present circumstances, the Broadcasting Council for Scotland
remains attached in principle to moving the editorial base for
BBC Scotland news provision to Glasgow, if that would improve
the quality of output and could be seen to be "the right
thing to do."
The Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC Scotland told us:
"I think it is very important this remains
an editorial judgment and an editorial decision rather than a
political judgment or a political decision."
41. We welcome the decision by the BBC Board of Governors
to review the position of the early evening news in Scotland in
2003. Underpinning any so called editorial decision is a political
dynamic of the first order, particularly when it leads to major,
perhaps controversial, consequences involving the BBC. We suggest
that during this review the Board of Governors should consult
as widely as possible with Scottish society as well as with other
42. We believe there to be genuine concerns about
the dominance of the Scottish Media Group in broadcasting and
print journalism in Scotland. In an ideal world, it cannot
be to the advantage of the viewer or listener to be subject, excluding
the BBC, to the views, ideas and agenda emanating from one commercial
organisation. It is an area where constant vigilance will be necessary.
In the context of our interest in a properly balanced news
and current affairs output, we accept the important point made
by the Managing Director of Scottish Television that such balance
might be found if considered in the light of the material broadcast
across the range of programmes on offer.
43. We noted that the terms of the Broadcasting Act
1990 as it currently stands precludes the introduction of a commercial
television version of the 'Scottish Six'. The SMG evidence strongly
suggested that this was not an option they were minded to pursue
due to commercial reasons.
We believe that consideration should be given to making necessary
changes to the Broadcasting Act to allow commercial companies
in Scotland to broadcast their own equivalent of a 'Scottish Six',
if they wished to do so.
44. A habit of some news and current affairs broadcasters
in Scotland, which to our mind is a symptom of editorial laziness,
is the tendency to interview MSPs, no matter what the subject
in question. The Scottish Media Group agreed that there was a
possible tendency in this direction. Scottish Radio Holdings told
"I would not use the word problem...[but]
Because it is a much smaller operation and it is based 40 miles
down the road, it is probably true to say that it is easier to
get responses from MSPs than it is from MPs. It would be silly
to assume that was not the case."
45. Broadcasters should strive to include comment
from those with some direct connection with the policy area under
discussion. This is part of the perennial request to journalists
to get their facts right and gather information from the appropriate
quarter. Proper attention to detail concerning who might be
best consulted, would probably lead to added concentration amongst
politicians in general on some of the more positive areas of news
and current affairs broadcasting in Scotland.
46. The Scottish Media Group frankly admitted to
an imbalance in terms of selecting the most appropriate interviewee,
particularly when this involved local authorities or councillors.
However, in a move which we commend, Scottish Television has
made it the objective of a journalist in both the Edinburgh and
Glasgow newsrooms to become more aware of what is happening at
local authority level.
Given that, as we have noted, the BBC introduced training in devolution
awareness following the establishment of the Scottish Parliament,
it would be useful for the BBC and SMG to learn from each other's
47. It struck us, as it must all observers of the
Scottish Parliament, that there seemed to be a profusion of journalists
covering the work there. Professor Schlesinger said:
"The last time I looked into this, there
were about 200 accreditations, a lot of which were technical staff,
but nonetheless there seemed to be around 40 to 50 regular political
correspondents, which is a large number, for example, compared
to Westminster...It is a very competitive environment, and there
is no doubt that stories do get played up and sought after quite
fiercely, and that has its effects in the press and in broadcasting."
Recognising the possibility of an excessive number
of journalists being located at the Scottish Parliament, Mr Hutchison
said he would be surprised not to see some kind of adjustment.
BBC Scotland agreed. The Head of News and Current Affairs noted
"The volume of coverage across all media
in Scotland has been, I think, probably greater than most people
would have expected....There has been a very, very large amount
The digital age
48. The question, to which we are unable to supply
the answers, is: will digital broadcasting change things beyond
recognition? The BBC who have a clear financial stake, spoke of
more choice, on-line advantages, and a wider range of services
which were closer to the audience.
We also heard that news gathering could become more ambitious.
Scottish Radio Holdings told us that the cost of digital radio
49. Reflecting our own caution, Professor Schlesinger
"We are urged to think that the digital
age is on us, but the evidence is not absolutely conclusive on
that...it is a possibility that the economic base for producing
high quality journalism across a wider range of channels would
Mr Hutchison and Mike Russell were of one mind, believing
that comprehensive digital conversion by the target year of 2010
was unlikely to happen without intervention from the Government.
1 See the memorandum from the Department for Culture,
Media and Sport, Ev 81, Appendix 3, para 13. Back
Ev 78-79, Appendix 2. Back
Ev 5, para 1.1. Back
For background to the debate within the BBC over the 'Scottish
Six', see Open Scotland? by Philip Schlesinger, David Miller
and William Dinan, Polygon at Edinburgh, 2001, chapter 2. Back
Reaching Out. The Consumer Perspective on Communications in
Scotland, Scottish Consumer Council, January 2002. Back
Open Scotland? by Philip Schlesinger, David Miller and
William Dinan, Polygon at Edinburgh, 2001. Back
Ibid, p1. Back
Ibid, p2. Back
Ibid, p3. Back
Ibid, p33. Back
Ev 6, para 3.7. Back
Ev 31, para 4.11. Back
See also Q81 and Q113. Back
Ev 30, para 4.1. Back
Ev 31, para 4.6 and 4.7. Back
Ibid, para 4.14. Back
Ibid, para 4.10. Back
Ev 33. Back
Q1. See also Q4 and Q7. Back
Q4. See also Ev 5, para 1.3. Back
Q1, Q4 and Q7. Back
Ev 2, para 1.3. Back
Ev 1-2, Summary. Back
Ev 5, para 2.6. Back
Ev 54. Back
Ev 53. Back
Q166 and Q168. Back
Q176 and Q179. Back
Ibid. See also Q172. Back
Ev 79, Appendix 2. Back
Q90 and Q98. Back
Q190 and Q195. Back